Review: Anthill: Tactical Trail Defense

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Anyone who’s ever watched an anthill or taken an animal biology class knows that ants are the great socialists of the insect universe, with every bug locked into an assigned specialty, units working together for the colony’s greater good.

Units. Sounds like a real-life, real-time strategy game. Anthill certainly is not the first insect-themed take on that particular gaming genre, but Swedish developer Image & Form’s light-hearted garden romp may be one of the first times casual iOS gamers have experienced the concept. And it proves a worthwhile, colorful introduction, throwing in some familiar tower defense elements to keep you buggin’.

All 21 levels start in the same spot—with a basic anthill. Using your finger, you draw paths. Paths for your worker ants to find bug corpses and aphids—food is Anthill’s singular resource–they can then bring back to the anthill. Paths for your soldier and spitter ants to patrol, as they look for encroaching spiders, dragonflies and mortar bugs to take out.

Anthill’s compact bug universe is colorful and vibrant, and we’re not just talking about the bugs. Human skulls and lush foliage cover the ground disguising the approach of the game’s many buggish/thuggish enemies, all of whom either want to raid the resident food sources or turn your anthill into their main course. Killing the bigger-sized bugs splats them into king-size chunks that’ll require several worker ants to haul back to the hive.

For the most part, the game’s interface works effectively. Erasing useless paths when the screen’s cluttered with crawling, battling bugs is sometimes challenging, but for the most part, the AI can discern when you’re looking to tap the screen and launch an aerial attack with your flying ants (it’s the one command that doesn’t involved drawing a line path) versus choosing to re-route your ground forces.

Anthill does an effective job of introducing its concepts slowly, usually one or two for each of the game’s levels. Given that you only have four types of ants to deploy, the variety and challenge of what’s being thrown at you doesn’t range terribly far. In one level, you have to try to fend off attacking forces using only your aerial units; in another, all the food sources are guarded by crowds of bugs.

Most of the levels can be survived/unlocked simply by protecting the anthill health meter until the level timer runs out after the allotted number of enemy waves have attacked, a task that mostly involves fortifying the perimeter and taking out anything that comes too close with an aerial assault. Nailing all the level’s stars (all the better to take the high road to gaining the various unit upgrades; shortcut-lovers can fork over a buck to buy a block of 20 stars) requires a more aggressive approach. Your units will have to venture to the level’s farthest edges, there to collect emerald gems and do battle with spiders in trench-holes that have a nasty knack of obliterating your units before they can get close enough to do damage. You’ll find that things get significantly easier once you’ve maxed out the upgrades for the flying ants.

Anthill takes on a simple mission and nails it, managing to strike a strong balance between challenging gameplay and ease of use. Once you’ve conquered the insect world, you’re probably ready for bigger and more complex RTS and tower defense kingdoms. Majesty, anyone?

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Pros:
+ Easy to pick up and play
+ Colorful presentation is like bug eye candy
+ Touch-screen interface works smoothly

Cons:
– Erasing useless paths when the screen’s cluttered will have you buggin’
– Not a ton of unity or mission variety

Game Info:
Platform: iPhone/iPad
Publisher: Image & Form
Developer: Image & Form
Release Date: 10/6/2011
Genre: Tower Defense Strategy
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.